Former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner made waves recently when he announced on Twitter that not only have his thoughts on cannabis “evolved,” but that he is joining the advisory board for Acreage Holdings, a cannabis investment company.
“I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities,” Boehner tweeted April 11.
Boehner’s announcement received a mix of responses, given his previous track record when it comes to the plant. Many are trying to paint his decision as one influenced by greed and the current success of the green rush. As a representative for Ohio for over 30 years, Boehner’s only vote related to cannabis was against legalizing it in Washington, in 1999. And, in years since, he made his staunch, anti-cannabis views known, telling a constituent in 2011 that he was “unalterably opposed” to any form of legalization, according to NORML. In his time serving as House Speaker, Boehner never championed any pro-cannabis legislation, and in fact, he even opposed the weakest of cannabis reform laws.
Yet, Boehner’s tweet and subsequent interviews have made it clear that the Republican now realizes the benefits of medical marijuana, particularly when it comes to helping veterans as well as aid in fighting the opioid epidemic in this country.
So, what changed?
He told Bloomberg News that his views began softening when he observed the experience of a close friend who used medical marijuana to ease debilitating back pain. It was then that Boehner realized this medication that has been vilified — something he had personally contributed to — had such amazing potential.
Boehner also noted that as his stance changed, he began realizing the detrimental impact that current cannabis laws have on folks who have been swept up unfairly into the judicial system.
“When you look at the number of people in our state and federal penitentiaries, who are there for possession of small amounts of cannabis, you begin to really scratch your head,” Boehner said in his interview with Bloomberg News. “We have literally filled up our jails with people who are nonviolent and frankly do not belong there.”
And Boehner is not alone. The former Speaker’s shifting views fall in line with the general opinion of the American population when it comes to legalizing cannabis, and he has acknowledged this.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically,” Boehner told Bloomberg. “I find myself in the same position.” According to a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans now approve of legal cannabis, as opposed to only 31 percent of the population in 2000.
However, a Gallup poll that was released around the same time as the Pew survey shows that only 51 percent of Republicans support legal cannabis as opposed to 72 percent of Democrats. So, while some in the industry may be taking Boehner’s new views with a grain of salt, others are hoping that his change in opinion will influence other politicians, particularly conservative leaders currently serving, especially when it comes to new policy.
If Boehner can use his influence to sway his Republican colleagues to the side of cannabis policy reform, it may just be what the country is waiting for. Cannabis policy needs to be a bipartisan issue for it to succeed in the US. And perhaps a former Speaker turned cannabis company board member is just the person to do so.